Reviews You Can Rely On

Best Sandals for Women of 2021

We put women's sandals from Chaco, Teva, KEEN, and others to a head to head test to reveal the best models
The Clearwaters are surprisingly light and sleek while also being dura...
Photo: Miya Tsudome
Tuesday November 16, 2021
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On the hunt for some new summer kicks? We've purchased and tested dozens of pairs in the past 6 years, with the 14 best women's sandals in this review. We spent months trying out these products side-by-side. Miles of urban hiking, backcountry jaunts, neighborhood strolls, bike rides, and even trail runs have acquainted us with every strap and buckle. At this point, our intrepid team of nonstop explorers knows what makes for the right sandal in any situation and for every foot shape. We rate each option on key factors like comfort, adjustability, and, yes, style. Then we consider their cost to refine our final recommendations. This review includes options for varied adventures, long-haul hiking, and lazy camp days.

Related: Best Flip Flops for Women of 2021

Top 14 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 14
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Awards  Editors' Choice Award   Editors' Choice Award 
Price $130 ListCheck Price at Backcountry
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$56.96 at Amazon
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$105 List
Check Price at REI
Overall Score
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88
Star Rating
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Pros Excellent traction, comfortable, versatileStable and supportive, stylish, durableGreat traction, stable, stylishVersatile, adjustable, excellent tractionComfortable, versatile, lightweight, fits many foot types
Cons Pricey, can't be worn with socksAnnoying to adjust, uncomfortable for the flat-footed, heavyShort straps, difficult to adjust, can't be worn with socksDoesn't fit all feet, tricky to adjust at first, heavyNot as cushioned as other models, can't be worn with socks
Bottom Line This outstanding sandal can handle anything you want to tackle in the great outdoorsWhether you're hiking or rafting or hanging out, this classic design plays well for the long haulThis pared-down sandal delivers the performance wearers expect from a classic Chaco, but with less weight and bulkThis durable, versatile model will keep you comfortable from the backcountry to your own backyardThis is a minimalist workhorse sandal that can take on nearly anything
Rating Categories Bedrock Cairn 3D PR... Chaco Z/Cloud 2 Chaco Z/Volv X2 - W... Chaco Z/1 Classic -... Bedrock Cairn Adven...
Comfort (20%)
8.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
8.0
Traction (20%)
10.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
Adjustability (20%)
9.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
9.0
Stability (15%) Sort Icon
9.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
Versatility (15%)
8.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
10.0
Style (10%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
Specs Bedrock Cairn 3D PR... Chaco Z/Cloud 2 Chaco Z/Volv X2 - W... Chaco Z/1 Classic -... Bedrock Cairn Adven...
Weight (pounds per pair) 1.26 lbs (size 10/11) 1.44 lbs (size 9) 1.23 lbs (size 10) 1.30 lbs (size 10) 1.06 lbs (size 9/10)
Footbed Material Molded 3D LUVSEAT PU with textured grooves LUVSEAT PU with textured grooves LUVSEAT PU Granite Grip
Midsole Material Cairn 3D Vibram Women's specific LUVSEAT dual-density PU Women's specific LUVSEAT PU midsole LUVSEAT PU midsole Cairn Vibram
Sole Material Vibram Megagrip Non-marking ChacoGrip Non-marking EcoTread rubber compound (25% recycled) ChacoGrip rubber Vibram XS Trek Regolith
Upper Material Polyester and nylon webbing Polyester jacquard webbing Polyester jacquard webbing Polyester jacquard webbing Polyester and nylon webbing
Width Options Medium Medium, Wide Medium Medium Medium


Best Overall Lightweight Sandal for Women


Bedrock Cairn Adventure - Women's


88
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 8
  • Traction 9
  • Adjustability 9
  • Stability 8
  • Versatility 10
  • Style 9
Weight per pair: 1.06 lbs (size 9/10) | Sole: Vibram XS Trek Regolith
Minimal design combined with great feel
Lightweight
Excellent for all-around use
Adjusts to many foot types
Toe thong can press when going downhill
Thin sole

The highest scorer in our test and a standout in every metric, the Bedrock Cairn Adventure offers a unique style, employing a thong construction combined with an ankle strap. This design provides a surprising, barely-there feel by eliminating pressure points on the side of the foot. This Cairn also sports a hearty Vibram sole that gives the wearer little hesitation when scurrying up and down steep slabs with a heavy pack. Add in a comprehensive adjustment system and a lightweight feel that adds both versatility and style, and it was easy to crown this pair as our favorite. The Cairn Adventure is a do-anything champ, and if you're looking for a companion on your way to the crag, beach, and bar, this is the shoe for you.

It's hard to find things to complain about with the Bedrocks, but no product is perfect, so we'll give it a go: this model has a fairly thin, flexible sole, so if you're looking for a cushy pair of kicks with a ton of support, this ain't it. You also can't wear socks with these due to the thong-style toe strap. The strap isn't comfortable for everyone, though we loved it. If you can get over these issues, we're pretty sure you'll love this shoe. If you need more support, Bedrock also makes a cushier version, the Cairn 3D PRO II Adventure, that has a molded footbed and an extra-grippy sole for your wildest outdoor wanderings. Most people will find that the regular Cairn Adventure meets their needs just fine, and it'll save you a few bucks.

Read review: Bedrock Cairn Adventure - Women's

Best Supportive Sandal for Long Distance Hikers


Chaco Z/Cloud 2


83
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 7
  • Traction 9
  • Adjustability 8
  • Stability 9
  • Versatility 9
  • Style 8
Weight per pair: 1.44 lbs (size 9) | Sole: Non-marking ChacoGrip
Long-lasting
Versatile
Very supportive
Not comfortable for all feet
Weighty

The Chaco Z/Cloud 2 scores near the top of the charts across the board, but its durability and comfort specifically make it a great choice for long-distance hiking. This model features one of our review's best traction performances, combining underfoot traction with foot-to-shoe interaction that allowed testers to feel comfortable and secure no matter the terrain. With a comprehensive adjustment system that can hug each foot area, this product is a favorite. We love that its toe strap provides extra support on the trail but can also fold down as needed to accommodate socks.

Though we love them, we'll acknowledge that Chacos don't work for everyone. Their footbed is sculpted and doesn't break in much, so if you have flat feet, they are unlikely to feel comfortable. The adjustment system is tricky to figure out at first, and it's not conducive to quick readjustment when you need it. These also aren't the lightest options we tested, though we feel that their extra heft lends stability during long days on the trail. All in all, if these fit your feet and you're ready to get out after it, we're pretty sure you'll be in love.

Read review: Chaco Z/Cloud 2

Best Bang for Your Buck


Teva Original Universal - Women's


72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 8
  • Traction 8
  • Adjustability 6
  • Stability 7
  • Versatility 7
  • Style 7
Weight per pair: 0.73 lbs (size 10) | Sole: Rubber
Soft and comfy footbed
Stylish and fits many foot types
Good traction
Unstable
Not hearty enough for heavy-duty adventuring

This retro-looking option delivered strong performance across most of our testing metrics and comes in at a surprisingly friendly price. The Teva Original Universal is comfortable, simple, and easy to adjust, and it offers great traction across a variety of terrains. It's a particular rockstar in watery environments. If you're looking for laid-back, old-school style, you've come to the right place: this model looked great in the '80s, and it looks just as good now. Even more compelling, it comes in a ton of awesome colorways, so you can find the option that suits you best.

Though this is one of our first picks as a casual or recovery sandal, its floppy sole and imprecise adjustment mechanisms make it inappropriate for heavy-duty days in the backcountry. It feels unstable over super technical terrain or when wearing a heavy pack, and when you really crank down on the straps to achieve a secure fit, they rub and get uncomfortable. If you're looking for footwear to take you everywhere, this probably isn't it, but for casual and light outdoor use, the Original Universal is a great value.

Read review: Teva Original Universal - Women's

Best for Adventure Travel


KEEN Clearwater CNX


72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 8
  • Traction 8
  • Adjustability 6
  • Stability 8
  • Versatility 7
  • Style 5
Weight per pair: 1.18 lbs (size 11) | Sole: Non-marking rubber
Sturdy comfort
Great water performance
Versatile
Does not fit wide feet well
Nonadjustable ankle strap

Keen has long been a purveyor of sturdy footwear options that score high in versatility despite their bulky profiles. The Keen Clearwater CNX upholds the brand's standard for adaptability while bucking the trend for bulk, and its sleek footprint made it our top choice for adventure travel. A comfortable, contoured arch cradles the foot, the rubber toe ensures safety from pebbles, rocks, and branches, and the latest version of the shoe is remarkably lightweight.

Our one gripe with this model is the lack of a heel strap adjustment, which makes quick on-and-off and use with heavy socks difficult. This is also one of the slimmer versions of Keen footwear, and those with wide feet might want to look elsewhere for a more comfortable fit. The style leaves something to be desired, and it isn't our first choice for active footwear we'd also wear out on the town, but this shoe is versatile for hiking and water sports alike and is a great choice for many outdoor pursuits.

Read review: Keen Clearwater CNX

Best for Minimalist Trail Runners


Luna Oso Flaco Winged


70
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 5
  • Traction 9
  • Adjustability 7
  • Stability 8
  • Versatility 6
  • Style 7
Weight per pair: 0.88 lbs (size 9/11) | Sole: Vibram Megagrip
Super traction
Great stability
Minimal and lightweight
Uncomfortable
Not versatile

Most people are looking to raft, bike, hike, and lounge in their sandals, but what if you're a little crazy and you're on the hunt for something that will let you run free? Well, friend, then check out the Luna Oso Flaco Winged. This super pared-down, thin-soled kick has outstanding traction and a secure strap system built to keep minimalist runners happy. After a few skeptical test runs, this model fully converted our lead tester to minimalist running, and she now puts dozens of miles per month on them as her primary trail shoe. If you're interested in dipping your toes into the minimalist running waters, the Oso Flaco is an excellent introduction.

When you're not running, the party screeches to a halt. This model is pretty uncomfortable — something about the running motion seems to align the straps better with the foot, and this magic fades when you slow to walking speeds. The strap system is difficult to adjust at first, and it's too thin-soled to be comfortable on bike rides. If you're looking for an all-around sandal and not just an intro to running free, give this model a pass or, at least, be sure you can try them on before buying to ensure you like the way they feel.

Read review: Luna Oso Flaco Winged

Best for Camp Sandals


Xero Z-Trail EV - Women's


71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 7
  • Traction 7
  • Adjustability 7
  • Stability 7
  • Versatility 6
  • Style 9
Weight per pair: 0.60 lbs (size 9) | Sole: FeelLite rubber
Ultralight
Easy to carry on a backpacking trip
Stylish
Minimal cushioning
Slick footbed when wet
Straps don't secure the foot enough in place for downhill travel

Our reviewers were impressed by the lightweight and comfortable design of the new Xero Z-Trail EV for women. Comfortable right of the box, the 3-layer, 10-millimeter thick soles are soft and flexible. The flat, zero-drop soles allow for a more natural posture and more traction as you can feel the ground more easily underneath your feet. But even if you don't plan to do a lot of hiking in these minimalist shoes, they are our favorite choice to throw in the backpack and change into at camp after a long day in hiking boots or to deploy for a quick creek crossing.

They are not the most robust in our lineup, and we found that our feet often slid uncomfortably to the top of the shoe while hiking downhill no matter how much we tightened the strap. The footbed also becomes slick when wet, causing some instability. But these can't be beaten for how light and comfortable they are, and you'll be so happy to pull them out of your bag at camp to relax in after a long day on the trail.

Read review: Xero Z-Trail EV - Women's

Notable for At-Home Style and Comfort


Olukai Upena


63
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 10
  • Traction 4
  • Adjustability 4
  • Stability 6
  • Versatility 6
  • Style 9
Weight per pair: 1.07 lbs (size 11) | Sole: Non-marking rubber
Delightfully comfortable
Take no time to break-in
Stylish
Not suitable for technical use
Minimally adjustable

The Olukai Upena is somewhat unique in this review in that its design is not really for rugged use. While this model can't compete with the more technical options in the backcountry, it deserves mention for wearing at home and around town. It is one of the most comfortable and stylish models we've ever worn, and our testers rarely take it off around the house. Its footbed is slightly molded and supportive enough to remain comfortable walking to the coffee shop and on easy bike rides around the neighborhood. If you're not planning to do any water sports or trail hiking but are looking for a stylish footwear option that's more supportive than a flip-flop, the Upena deserves your attention.

This option is on the pricey side, but that's what we expect from Olukai. These are well worth the price if you want quality craftsmanship with premium materials. Despite the leather components, these sandals are surprisingly water-friendly, thanks to the Hawaiian focus of the brand. However, adjustability is a pitfall of the Upena. It's also not as rugged as other options, which means it's a poor choice for thru-hikes or rafting trips. On the other hand, if summer for you means beaches, bistros, and bars, this is a good contender.

Read review: Olukai Upena

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price Our Take
88
$105
Editors' Choice Award
This top-notch sandal has what it takes for any adventure
88
$130
This sandal is comfortable, grippy, durable, and ready for anything you want to do outside
83
$110
Editors' Choice Award
A classic, it's tough to go wrong with this sandal, no matter what you're planning
81
$100
This stylish, versatile sandal is a lighter, less bulky addition to the Chaco lineup and it performs like a champ
80
$95
As long as your arches are happy with this model's molded footbed, you'll love this durable, versatile sandal
76
$80
These style-concious sandals provide plush comfort for light hikes and walking around town
72
$50
Best Buy Award
This timeless classic performs well for a variety of light outdoor activities at a very nice price
72
$110
Top Pick Award
A tester favorite despite low expectations, this is a great adventure-ready sandal
71
$80
Top Pick Award
This sandal won't stand up to the durability of beefier models, but we love it for its light weight and comfort
70
$110
Top Pick Award
This sandal has great traction and secure straps, making it a solid option for those interested in minimalist trail running
69
$80
This sandal nearly has it all at a great price, but the ankle strap doesn't scream comfort
63
$90
While it doesn't stack up to the competition on the trails, this is a comfortable, stylish option for at-home wear
59
$115
Though comfortable with a cushioned and supportive heel, this shoe doesn't meet our standards for a versatile adventure sandal
57
$90
This sandal can't stand up to the more technical models, but it's a fine option for light outdoor activities

We love playing outside in sandals, especially when they&#039;re grippy...
We love playing outside in sandals, especially when they're grippy and comfortable like this model.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

Why You Should Trust Us


This review is brought to you by experts Joanna Trieger, Shey Kiester, and Miya Tsudome. Joanna uses her home in Reno, Nevada, as a base of operations for various Sierra Nevada excursions. You can find her bike commuting on workdays, which she has done without exception for the past five years. She travels nearly 4,000 miles per year under her own steam, from long-distance hiking to running to bikepacking, and her preferred type of footwear is — you guessed it — the sandal. Shey is an accomplished alpine climber and writer. She holds a degree in creative writing and English rhetoric from the University of Alaska and has written for Alpinist, American Alpine Journal, and Backpacker, among others. Miya is an avid outdoor enthusiast who can be found running, scrambling, and climbing in the High Sierra and has a sharp sense for good footwear for long days in the mountains.

Reviewing this category began with no shortage of market research. The team started with several dozen pairs up for consideration and selected the best 14 models available. Once all models were purchased and in hand, months of testing in a variety of settings ensued. We dispatched shoes to testers who wore them in wet and dry conditions, with and without packs, and around town. About 70% of testing took place on hiking trails, while the rest happened in and around water, on bikes, and around town. After gathering our findings, we are pleased to share this comprehensive review, which we think is a great tool if you're in the market for women's sandals.

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Click to enlarge
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Related: How We Tested Sandals for Women

Analysis and Test Results


Adventure sandals are unique footwear that attempt to cover the large gray area between hiking shoes and flip-flops. This category offers more performance (and maybe a little less fashion) than a flip-flop while maintaining more breathability (and, in some cases, more versatility) than a hiking shoe. Most will also be waterproof and quick-drying, making them versatile performers for when you encounter creek crossings on your hike or if you need a sturdy yet lightweight shoe for water-related activities.

Related: Buying Advice for Sandals for Women

All of the products in this review strap securely to the foot and sport patterned soles, making them versatile enough for off-the-pavement forays. This review identifies the best models for specific activities, like travel, hiking, water sports, and even running. All the models here are top performers, and their scores in each of our metrics represent how they fare compared to one another. Below, you'll find in-depth explanations of the designs we reviewed and how we tested for each parameter.

Value


It is important to keep in mind that some of the most durable models we tested are on the more expensive side. The Chaco models are among the most expensive in this review, but they are built to last. If you expect to put in a lot of time in your shoes and anticipate rough-and-tumble activities that will test your footwear's durability, Chacos are worth it.


Another pricey option that's worth splurging on is the Bedrock Cairn Adventure. Our lead tester wore this pair almost daily for two years. She used it as her primary shoe for hundreds of miles of use per month of biking, hiking, and around-town before the front lugs wore down enough to need replacing (check out the Bedrock Cairn Adventure review for more on that process). That said, the Teva Original Universal offers acceptable durability for less than half the price of the Chaco or Bedrock models.

If a sandal is durable and comfortable enough to replace a hiking...
If a sandal is durable and comfortable enough to replace a hiking boot for long trips into the backcountry, it's worth spending a little extra.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

Comfort


If your shoes are uncomfortable, you're less likely to wear them. Because of this, comfort is one of our most important metrics and is worth 20% of each product's overall score. We rated our sandals based on how long they took to break in and whether there were any lingering points of discomfort after the break-in period. We analyzed how the footbed and strap materials feel against the skin and tested for comfort while wearing a heavy pack, with wet feet, on smooth and rough terrain, and while walking up and down steep trails. Some models perform well in one area and poorly in another, while our highest-scoring models perform well across the board.

Keep in mind that, to an extent, comfort is subjective. Where applicable, we have noted whether or not a shoe's comfort is affected by the foot shape of the tester, and we indicated which foot types were likely to work with which models.


Although we try to be as objective as possible with our comfort ratings, this metric is dependent on what kind of activities you plan to participate in while wearing your shoes. If you intend to wear your shoe during long stints on the trail with a heavy pack, seek out a model with excellent support and traction. On the other hand, if you're looking for an exceptional travel shoe that is lightweight and breathable, look for options with slim profiles and comfortable straps.

The Keen Clearwater and Bedrock Cairn Adventure both take home high comfort scores. The close fit and supportive-yet-supple footbed of the Clearwater garner top marks, while the barely-there feel of the Cairn Adventure earns it a high score. The other burlier Bedrock we tested, the Cairn 3D PRO II Adventure, also takes home a high score here. It's very similar to the regular Cairn but with a cushier sole.

The Bedrock Cairn Adventure is one of the most comfortable models we...
The Bedrock Cairn Adventure is one of the most comfortable models we tested. Its wide straps with multiple adjustment points give them a barely-there feel, and even our high-arched testers found the zero-drop footbed comfortable.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

Though we don't recommend it for technical applications, the Olukai Upena and the Xero Z-Trail EV both stood out in the comfort category. The straps and footbeds of both shoes feel delightful against the skin, and it takes no time at all for them to feel cozy. They are the first shoes we would reach for lounging around the house or taking a walk to the coffee shop.

With a buttery soft footbed, these shoes are our pick for slipping...
With a buttery soft footbed, these shoes are our pick for slipping into after a long day of hiking... wear them with socks to get cozy by the fire, or not. Your choice.
Photo: Miya Tsudome

The Xero Z-Trail EV is the most minimalist product in our review, so its comfort isn't based on its cushioning. Its BareFoam upper materials feel great against the skin, the straps are light and soft, and the shoes feel broken in almost instantly. We especially like slipping these on after a long day of running, hiking, or skiing since they're extremely lightweight and don't pinch the feet. It is one reason why this model is a great pick for use as camp sandals. We loved to slip them on with a pair of socks (don't judge us) to relax in around a campfire after a day on the trail. Note that this shoe is not cushioned, which is why it doesn't score top marks in this category.

These lightweight sandals are our pick for best camp sandal.
These lightweight sandals are our pick for best camp sandal.
Photo: Miya Tsudome

In the middle of the spectrum are the Teva Original Universal and the Chaco models. Chaco's offerings are incredibly supportive, and the comprehensive (although complicated) adjustments allow for round-the-foot support. However, because of a raised footbed that proves uncomfortable for flat-footed users and a hearty sole that takes time to break in, we took docked some points. The Z/Volv X2 has a slightly lower-profile footbed molding, which makes this a better choice for those with low arches. The Teva Original Universal's wide straps and squishy footbed lend comfort during light use, but these same straps and footbed become uncomfortable under the strain of technical trails. Again, it all depends on what activities you plan to undertake.

The Chaco Z/Volv X2 is Chaco's attempt to pare down its classically chunky offerings. The Z/Volv X2 is made of a PU compound that the company says is 20% lighter than its classic sandals. We measured the model to be about 15% lighter than the Z/Cloud 2. The footbed is also less contoured, which may satisfy the complaints of those with flat feet. We tested the Z/Cloud 2 and the Z/Volv X2 side-by-side and were barely able to detect these differences, but they are there. If you've been avoiding Chacos because their weight and molded footbed feel uncomfortable to you, you might be happier with the Z/Volv X2.

Traction


With the common trend of slapping sticky rubber (like that found on modern approach shoes) and Vibram soles on the bottom of outdoor footwear, shoe traction has significantly improved. Traction is a major selling point for shoe manufacturers, so we are naturally curious how well each pair gains purchase on varying surfaces. Our testers scrambled slick granite from Donner Summit to Yosemite to Bishop. Each product was subjected to a slip test while carrying a heavy pack and in wet conditions. We also evaluated the traction between the bottom of the foot and the footbed, which is a big factor in how grippy you'll feel over uneven surfaces. The highest performers inspire enough confidence for quick travel even over steep, slick terrain. This score is worth 20% of the total.


The Chaco and Bedrock models and the Oso Flaco Winged earn the highest traction scores. The Cairn Adventure is a go-to on steep approaches thanks to the trusty rubber and large lug design of its sole. The Cairn 3D PRO II Adventure is an even grippier option that excels in watery environments. The Chaco models also provide outstanding traction even when traveling with a heavy pack, and we found their footbeds to have even better traction than that of the Cairn Adventure. The Oso Flaco's combination of deep lugs and a flexible sole allows for amazing traction on uneven terrain, though it loses out on top marks due to its slippery footbed.

This Luna model offers outstanding traction due to its deep...
This Luna model offers outstanding traction due to its deep, strategically placed lugs.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

Following behind the leaders is the Clearwater CNX. Keen's proprietary rubber is up to most tasks, handling loose pebbles on steep terrain well while traveling both up and downhill. This model receives lower marks because it tends to inspire insecurity on the steepest downhills, and the rounded edges of its outer sole don't provide as much surface contact as the Chacos. The Teva Original Universal and the Teva Hurricane Verge also offer surprisingly good traction, especially in wet environments.

The tread on the Teva Hurricane Verge sandals can hold its own on...
The tread on the Teva Hurricane Verge sandals can hold its own on slippery slab.
Photo: Miya Tsudome

Adjustability


This metric is based on the number of adjustment points sported on each model, how well they conform the product to the foot, and how easy they are to adjust. This metric spread the competition across the board, as the adjustment methods vary from model to model. This metric is also worth 20% of the overall score.


The Cairn 3D PRO II Adventure and Bedrock Cairn Adventure receive top adjustability scores. These models employ a unique combo of adjustable ankle straps and a sliding top strap, as well as a high hook for even more adjustment. All of these combine to give a considerable amount of adjustment potential, and testers could lock in the best fit quickly. Once that fit is locked in, adjusting the Cairn Adventure to take it on and off and loosen or tighten it for different applications is a cinch.

The Xero Z-Trail EV is intuitive and easy to adjust, and we appreciate being able to tighten one of its straps without having to batten down everything. This makes slipping them on while setting up camp after a long day of hiking a breeze. However, this model's heel strap is short, which could be an issue for wide feet, and with only one strap, it's hard to get the snuggest fit possible.

The Xero Z-Trail (left) and the Bedrock Cairn Adventure (right) are...
The Xero Z-Trail (left) and the Bedrock Cairn Adventure (right) are both minimalist sandals, but they have very different adjustment systems. The Z-Trail's strap criss-crosses the foot and can be adjusted at several points, while the Cairn has a thong-style strap with two side branches that can be adjusted. Both sandals have a Velcro heel strap.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

The Chaco models — the Z/Volv X2, the Z/Cloud 2, and the Z/1 Classic — have continuous straps that flow in and out of the shoe's sole and over the foot. These models are supremely adjustable so that you can get the right fit. However, making adjustments is time-consuming, and since adjusting one strap means adjusting them all, quick tweaks are out of the question. It also takes time to get the hang of adjusting these, so plan to spend some quality time getting your Chacos just right before you hit the trail.

The Teva Hurricane Verge has three individual, customizable straps making it another highly adjustable model. A z-strap over the midfoot is accessed by a large and easy-to-use buckle, and a strap for the forefoot and the heel are able to pull tight and be secured via velcro. Because there are many adjustment points, however, it can take some time to get the fit just right for each foot which can be a bit of a pain.

The Teva Hurricane Verge are highly adjustable sandals.
The Teva Hurricane Verge are highly adjustable sandals.
Photo: Miya Tsudome

At the bottom of the pile are the Keen models. The Clearwater CNX and Astoria West include a simple, pull-to-tighten bungee lace feature at the top of the foot that attempts to mimic a shoelace design. However, this system doesn't allow for toe box micro-adjustments or ankle adjustments, making it difficult to dial in the fit.

The only source of adjustability on the Keen Astoria West is the...
The only source of adjustability on the Keen Astoria West is the bungee lace.
Photo: Miya Tsudome

Stability


Stability is what sets most sandals apart from flip-flops. Feeling stable while hiking, especially with a pack on, is essential, so this metric is worth 15% of a product's overall score. To perform well, contestants need to feel stable and secure in nearly all outdoor settings and during long days of city walking. Sufficient arch support, a solid sole (that's minimal enough to feel light but not so flimsy that it feels insubstantial), and well-fitting straps contribute to this metric. Each model's Stability score is a collective assessment of performance across a range of terrain.


Several models receive high marks for stability, including the Cairn 3D PRO II Adventure, Cairn Adventure, all three Chaco models, and the Clearwater CNX. All these products have durable soles that allow for quick movement across rugged terrain, and their strap systems eliminate concerns about slipping on steep hills.

If you&#039;ll be tackling terrain that includes steep, uneven rock...
If you'll be tackling terrain that includes steep, uneven rock climbs and rushing river crossings, look for a stable model, like the Bedrocks.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

The Cairn Adventure is an excellent choice for users looking for a more minimal sole with less support, allowing for more feel. On the other end of the spectrum, the Chaco models offer thick soles and maximum support. The Cairn 3D PRO II Adventure is a happy medium. The Xero Z-Trail EV has the most flexible sole in our review and doesn't offer footbed molding or support, so it loses points here. However, we still feel its straps hold the feet in place well enough for light hiking without a pack, unless you are doing a lot of up and downhill hiking, where we found our foot often slid forward uncomfortably.

The Chaco Z/Cloud 2 (left) and the Bedrock Cairn (right) both...
The Chaco Z/Cloud 2 (left) and the Bedrock Cairn (right) both provide impressive stability, but their approach couldn't be more different. The Chaco has a thick, supportive sole, while the Bedrock's sole is more flexible and nimble.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

When hiking with a heavy pack, models with thicker soles will help you better handle the added weight over rough terrain. We felt most stable in the Chaco Z/1 Classic and the Chaco Z/Cloud 2 while carrying a loaded backpacking pack.

The Chaco Z/Cloud 2 kept us comfortable, even when carrying...
The Chaco Z/Cloud 2 kept us comfortable, even when carrying backpacking weight. However, those with low arches may find that this shoe doesn't conform to their foot.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

The Clearwater CNX receives high marks in this category for its supportive footbed combined with round-the-foot strap attachments. Thanks to this design, which is more shoe than a sandal, it performed the best on steep terrain in terms of shoe-foot integration. Unfortunately, despite looking similar, the Keen Astoria West loses points here because of its bulky, cushioned heel, which, although absorbs impact and adds a bounce to your step, is not suitable for rough and varied terrain. We found that sandals with less cushion allow you to feel the terrain underfoot more, which adds a sense of stability and balance. If you're looking for pure comfort and arch support for long, flat walks, however, the Astoria West will do you just fine.

Three of the Keen models — the Clearwater, the Astoria West, and the Rose — come with the classic Keen Foot Bumper, a bulbous rubber add-on to the front of the shoe that provides unrivaled toe protection.

The classic Keen foot bumpers, shown here on the Whisper (left) and...
The classic Keen foot bumpers, shown here on the Whisper (left) and the Clearwater (right).
Photo: Joanna Trieger

Versatility


Sandals are often pushed to their limit on the hiking trail and then, on the same day, taken out on the town paired with a summer dress. It requires them to be nimble and flattering enough for social events while still maintaining a high level of traction and support for a wide variety of outdoor pursuits. Models that score the highest in this metric take on everything from steep, loose trails to water sports and easily transition to the bar patio or a backyard barbecue afterward. This metric accounts for 15% of a product's overall score.


The Bedrock models take home the top scores in this metric because they score well in the rest of our performance categories, AND they are low-profile enough to pair with a skirt or skinny jeans. The Chaco models and the Teva Hurricane Verge are not far behind, come in lots of attractive colorways, but their bulk makes them harder to style. Conversely, the Teva Original Universal and the Xero Z-Trail EV are not up to the rugged backcountry use of the Chaco, but they're super stylish, so they transition easily from light outdoor pursuits to wearing around town.

The Chaco Z/Volv X2 is a great option for cycling around town as...
The Chaco Z/Volv X2 is a great option for cycling around town as well as for long treks in the wilderness.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

Although some other models like the Clearwater perform well across various activities, they lack the style points to cross over into town use. Keen tried to add a feminine flair to their Astoria West with an elevated heel. Still, our testers didn't find this feature added any style to an already not-so-attractive shoe and, if anything, just made it more impractical. Style-forward models like the Upena score low here because they can't hack anything more than very light activity on the trails.

The Keen models are great for rugged use, but are hard to transition...
The Keen models are great for rugged use, but are hard to transition to town with their bulky style.
Photo: Miya Tsudome

Style


Style is subjective, but important nonetheless. Many consumers consider aesthetics when purchasing footwear, so this is a necessary consideration to evaluate each product. Style preference will look a little bit different for everyone. Therefore, we strongly suggest examining photos to assess how you feel about the style of each shoe. To evaluate this metric, we considered how each pair looked in the backcountry and around town. All-around styles scored well as they were more adaptable to go from trail to watering hole. Overall, this metric accounts for 10% of each product's score.


The sandals that best bridge the backcountry/city gap are the Teva Original, Xero Z-Trail EV, Cairn Adventure, and the Chaco models. When we surveyed family and friends to ask which options they found to be the most stylish, these were the top scorers. All of these are low-profile, with both flashy and more neutral color options. They look at home both on city streets and in the mountains. The Teva Hurricane Verge is the most urban of the bunch, with chunky straps and trendy monochromatic color schemes. Some may find this style to look too bulky, while others will love its funky, modern vibe. While not ruggedly trail-ready, the Upena is urban and attractive, perfect for lazy summers at the cafe, park, or even dressed up for a night on the town.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

The Keen models are among the least stylish of the bunch. Our testers agree that these options are clunky and awkward to pair with a sleek outfit. When we surveyed friends and family and asked them to rank the style of each model from 1 (ugly) to 10 (super stylish), some respondents tried to give the Astoria West a zero, and one lobbied for the Rose to receive a -1, which is why they score so low in this category. It's hard to make a sandal that has a closed-toe rubber bumper with a webbing outer and bungee cord closure look good, and we would be impressed if someone did one day. For now, these shoes lie firmly in the "practical" footwear category.

Conclusion


There is a lot to consider when looking for the perfect adventure sandal. Whether you're looking for a pair that specializes in one activity or is a jack-of-all-trades, or whether you care if they look good enough to take you from trail-to-town, we've made sure to give you a detailed look at which ones will best suit your needs. The footwear in this review is meant to walk the line between casual flip-flops and serious hiking shoes by strapping to your feet more securely than a flip-flop while allowing for more ventilation and water use than a regular hiking boot. Perfect for the summer and even shoulder seasons, these sandals will accompany you on many of your outdoor pursuits while being lighter and more breathable than a pair of shoes. Our review is here to help you evaluate the different models available so you can find the pair that will best fit your lifestyle, feet, and wallet. Get your feet in the pair that's right for you, and we'll see you on the trails!

A good pair of sandals will take you far!
A good pair of sandals will take you far!
Photo: Miya Tsudome

Joanna Trieger, Shey Kiester & Miya Tsudome

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